Is the recent spate of abductions in the Mt Kenya region linked to poaching and illegal trade in wildlife trophies?
Five people are still missing following a bizarre wave of kidnappings in Nyeri and Nyandarua counties, with new details and timelines of the kidnappings now indicating one team was involved.
Links to a poaching ring have also come up after it emerged that two of the missing men have had close encounters with game rangers associated with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Families of the missing men believe their kin were taken away by security agencies, but insist they are decent men who run legitimate businesses.
"If it's not the police who took him away, why aren't they helping us? The reason I don't think it's an abduction is because I've not received any phone call or demand for ransom," Ms Phoebe Muthoni, wife of Isaac Mwangi, who is among those missing, told the Nation.
So far, police have not made any progress in solving the disappearances more than eight days since the abductions started, even as relatives continue knocking on government doors for answers.
The whereabouts of Mr Mwangi, 34, Mr Gerald Guandaru, 45, Samuel Ngacha, 34, Bernard Wanjohi, 40, and Wilson Mwangi, 26, remain unknown.
Mr Guandaru, investigations show, was in the past directly linked to trade in wildlife trophies. The businessman was arrested by KWS rangers on May 30, 2017 and charged with illegal possession of two elephant tusks and a firearm.
Notably, his arrest happened a day after his family reported his alleged abduction outside his shop in Nyeri Town. The KWS rangers at the time said he was arrested alongside a man identified as Gicobi Mwai in Rumuruti Town.
Botched poaching attempt
Mr Guandaru was acquitted of the charges in 2020 after the trial court pointed out discrepancies on the date of arrest and insufficient evidence placed before the court.
Mr Guandaru was abducted on June 29 on Kanisa Road in Nyeri Town. He owns a barbershop and runs a bar and restaurant alongside his father Nderitu Guandaru.
Three vehicles were used during his abduction: two Subaru station wagons and a Toyota Succeed. One of the vehicles, according to witnesses, had registration plates KCU 544 H while another reportedly had parastatal plates.
In a rather bizarre turn of events, the Nation has learnt that Mr Guandaru's co-accused in the 2017 arrest and subsequent trial, Mwai, was shot dead on an unspecified date as the case was still in court in a reported botched poaching attempt at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Mwai is said to have been killed by KWS rangers on patrol.
On Wednesday, June 30, two brothers, Samuel Ngacha and Bernard Wanjohi were abducted at Kanyagia on the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway. At the abduction time, he was in the company of Ms Muthoni and three other friends who had travelled to Ndaragwa to follow up on the abduction of Isaac Mwangi.
The two, who are Isaac Mwangi's cousins, were abducted at gunpoint after being singled out from a group of six by five men who were in three vehicles, two Subaru station wagons and a Toyota Succeed. Mr Ngacha is a taxi operator in Naromoru while Mr Wanjohi is a businessman.
Mr Isaac Mwangi, Mr Ngacha, Mr Wanjohi and Mr Wilson Mwangi are all residents of the Solio area which has in the past borne the brunt of notorious poaching gangs.
Abducted in broad daylight
Following the recent abductions, locals have been living in fear, with some claiming officers said to be wildlife rangers have been harassing residents.
The Nation has since established that the abductors, said to be five in number, are operating in three vehicles that have been identified by witnesses in the four instances where the men were abducted.
The two vehicles have been identified by witnesses as having been used in the abductions. They are, however, said to bear fake registration plates that were swapped in between the operations.
One number plate that has been spotted in two instances is KCU 544 H, used in two separate abductions on different vehicles each time.
The fact that the same vehicles were used in four different abductions suggests that the same people are behind the disappearances.
The men were also abducted in broad daylight, after being singled out and their identification confirmed by the abductors who seem to be targeting specific people.
Mr Isaac Mwangi, a businessman based in Naromoru in Nyeri was the first to be kidnapped on Sunday, June 27. He was abducted at Kianugu area in Ndaragwa along the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway.
According to his wife Muthoni, he was abducted by three muscular men who were driving in a Subaru Forester.
Later that evening, Mwangi's employee, identified as Wilson Mwangi, was also abducted in Naromoru town. Three men who were driving a Toyota Succeed took him away.